Huichol yarn painting, inspired by peyote, the sacramental cactus containing the psychedelic chemical mescaline.

Linguistics, the study of human language, is derived from “lingua”, the Latin word for tongue. While the literal translation of this word may imply that the organs of sound production (tongue, lips, gottis) are the most important instruments for language, language is a mental process and, therefore, the most fundamental organ of this phenomenon is the brain.

In his text Peri Hermeneias (‘On Interpretation’), Aristotle argues that “spoken words are the symbols of mental experience,” which suggests that the relationship between language and the mind has been considered for thousands of years. Linguistics has greatly advanced since the days of the early Greek philosophers and is now prevalently integrated with the physical and social sciences as subfield called cognitive linguistics. In this field, the brain is applied to understand language, and language is applied to understand the brain.

Over the past several years, Jeremy Coyle (graduate of UC Berkeley’s Cognitive Science Program and currently a graduate student in UCB’s Biostatistics Group), Dr. David Presti (UCB Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Program in Cognitive Science), and Dr. Matthew Baggott (graduate of UCB’s Neuroscience doctoral program and currently at the University of Chicago’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience) collaborated to study language as a means to understand the effect of psychedelic substances on the mind, and on brain physiology. Psychedelics alter perception, consciousness, thoughts, emotions, mood, and behavior by changing brain chemistry and function. Because of the profound changes that are induced by this class of chemicals, psychedelics may be optimal tools to unveil the specific mechanisms that connect brain physiology to complex mental phenomena (an unanswered relationship known as the “mind-body problem”). Despite the insight to the mind-body problem that psychedelic drugs could provide, the use of these chemicals in neuroscience is scarce in comparison to other tools that are utilized. The paucity in psychedelic research is attributed to the lack of acceptance within the scientific and nonscientific community, and the lack of a good human model.